I thought that reading this book would solve all of my problems, create order in my crazy busy life, and achieve (inner) world peace. I was wrong. The book was a great read with helpful suggestions and case-by-case examples of plain old everyday folk who did just that, write books while working their day jobs. Folks like the man who wrote his book during his lunchbreak in his car.
And I began to collect scores of other stories like these. African-American Bluest Eye author Toni Morrison wrote her first novel while working as an editor and while being a single mom. Canadian emergency room doctor Vincent Lam wrote the short-story-collection-turned-television-mini-series Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures on his off days between his three-day shifts. Henrik Ibsen, the great Russian playwright, worked as a physician during the day calling it his "wife" and writing his "mistress". And then there is me. Like many a writer before me, I too have found myself in this precarious life.
Currently, I teach French and the arts (music, drama, dance, visual art) in an elementary school in Toronto. I have been in the classroom since 2003. I have taught a variety of assignments ranging from high school to kindergarten. Teaching has been challenging and being a natural introvert, sometimes feels like it goes against my tendency to withdraw socially and go inward. I feel this is where my writing comes in. It is naturally therapeutic especially after a day of dealing with the rambunctiousness of kindergarten and melodrama of preadolescence. But now, it has become more than just an outlet. Writing is also becoming a platform where I can express creativity and teach (but not be "didactic" as my writing teachers have warned me. Kids hate that.) and earn some cash, which is always cool.
As a children and young adult writer and a teacher, these worlds seem like a natural fit. I sometimes imagine my students reading and enjoying the books I write. I get to know the voice of kids, how they express themselves, what really matters to them, the kinds of books they enjoy reading, the kind of crappy things that happen to them on a daily basis like losing a parent to gun violence. I also have a group of "built in fans" and writing critics for my work. My students love to see my illustrations and to listen to stories that I have written. (Another thing my writing teachers told me not to tell anyone nor mention in query letters.)
Don't get me wrong, this life does have it's challenges. For example, when do I find the time to write? Thanks to some suggestions by retired-teacher-turned-author-illustrator, Sean Cassidy, I write before the school day and on weekends which means I am typically up between 3 and 4 am. (Evenings and weekends are when I squeeze in everything else.) E-mails, tweets, blog, and facebook any chance I get. I sketch during my commute.
This is a challenging schedule but it has gotten little-by-little easier and there are days when I allow myself to just sleep in. And there are rewards. Teaching allows me the financial means to support my creative pursuits and ample time off over the summer and throughout the year-- awesome! And if writing helps me to survive/overcome the challenging days of teaching-- bonus!
Besides, there are things I can only get from teaching, like big smiles and hugs from kindergarten students, "yippees" from Grade 2 students, and over forty eager Grades 1 to 8 students joining my weekly lunchtime Drawing and Writing Club. And vice versa. I get a thrill of seeing my work in print and love storytelling and fulfilling my childhood dreams.
Hats off to all of the children and young adult writers with day jobs!